A Mediterranean Cruise in 1910, Part 2
When my great-great-aunt and her husband visited the Holy Land in 1910, she regretted that they arrived in Jerusalem by train. This modern mode of travel seemed out of place in the ancient city. “We should have come by donkey or camel,” she wrote in a published account of their trip, Reminiscences of a Cruise in the Mediterranean and a Visit to the Holy Land and Egypt by Mrs. W. Lennox Mills.
Katharine Sophia Mills (1850-1938) and her husband, Rev. William Lennox Mills, who was the Anglican Bishop of Ontario, were on a four-month cruise from New York to ports around the Mediterranean, including the Holy Land and Egypt. They travelled by sea, by rail, motorcar, horse-drawn carriage, as well as by horse, donkey, and camel. Katharine seemed to take it all in stride, including stormy seas and deeply rutted roads.
Getting around the way people did in the past, watching them use primitive farming techniques and visiting ancient places sparked her imagination. She especially wanted to see the places that had been central to the Bible stories with which she was so familiar.
One day, she wrote, they drove from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. “It did not require a very vivid imagination to picture many of the scenes in the Bible story which took place here. How clearly one could see Ruth gleaning in the harvest field (the spot was pointed out to us) and Boaz coming among the reapers. What a scene of pastoral life and love in these fields, thick with corn and wheat! …. But transcending all other associations are those connected with the marvellous event which here took place, the birth of the world’s Redeemer, who is Christ the Lord.”
Later, Katharine and her husband visited the peaceful, walled garden at Gethsemane, and other locations associated with Christ’s crucifixion, and being in these places reminded her of the events that had happened there some 1900 years earlier.
She sometimes questioned whether some of the places their guide pointed out were really the locations of these events. In Nazareth, for example, they walked around the ruins of Joseph’s workshop, “said to be genuine. One cannot be quite sure, of course, that the very spot pointed out is the real one, but amidst all the changes and the desolation of the centuries, the distinguishing characteristics yet remain. One great memory lingers, and every spot seems hallowed ground.”
Another day, her skepticism was justified. “We passed the ‘Inn of the Good Samaritan’ and a little further along the road, the spot was shown us where the man fell among thieves. Those who are responsible for the locating of places mentioned in Scripture as the spots where certain events took place seem in this case either to have forgotten or ignored the fact the episode of the Good Samaritan was a parable.”
Like many others of her generation, Katharine grew up hearing stories from the Bible. Her father, Montreal landowner and notary Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873), was a deeply religious man and no doubt instilled his Christian beliefs in his five children. He was also interested in history, archaeology, coins and antiquities, and it appears that Katharine, his eldest daughter, shared these interests.
She especially enjoyed visiting the pyramids of Egypt and the Cairo’s Boulak Museum, now known as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. She wrote, “Cairo is simply fascinating: the new part of the city is very handsome, reminding one rather of Paris, with its wide streets and attractive shops, and there is a wonderful glamour and air of enchantment about it. The old Cairo is dirty, but most interesting.”
One of the highlights of their visit was watching the “gorgeous spectacle that was the return to Cairo of the pilgrimage from Mecca with the Holy Carpet, as Sheikhs, Bedouins and Arab riders, carrying flags and banners, and splendid camels, richly caparisoned, moved along with stately tread.”
For the most part, Katharine focused on her experiences as a tourist, and she did not mention politics often, although she did note there were tensions in Egypt. At that time, Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire and was occupied by British forces. She commented that the University of Mohammedanism was “the centre of dissatisfaction with British rule, and the seat of probable revolt.” In fact, although Egypt became independent in 1922, British troops did not entirely withdraw until 1956.
While many North Americans visit this part of the world today, in 1910, Katharine’s trip would have only been possible for a privileged few. Also, two world wars, political upheaval in the Middle East and technological advances have changed this region forever, making her reminiscences all the more interesting.
A Mediterranean Cruise in 1910, Writing Up the Ancestors, Oct. 30, 2019
Notes and sources
Reminiscences of a Cruise in the Mediterranean and a Visit to the Holy Land and Egypt by Mrs. W. Lennox Mills can be found in several Canadian university libraries, and online.